805 South B Street, San Mateo, CA 94403, (650) 344-5918

Yes Virginia, there is a Ramen Santa...

It's Sunday night and I'm still reveling in a post-Santa Ramen orgasmic bliss (I had it back on Saturday morning). For months, I've been on a pho and ramen kick. There isn't a ramen-ya worth a damn in Sac, so I was ecstatic when I got a chance to quench my ramen craving this weekend. A buddy and I had gone to the city to catch a show, afterwards we met up with a local friend of hers for drinks. We were working out the logistics of crashing at his place, when he burst out with a big smile and announced that he had a fantabulous place to take us the next day for lunch to quell our soon-to-be hangovers. I'm not much of a daytime eater, so I just raised an eyebrow...but then as though in slow motion I saw his lips form the words S-a-a-a-n-n-n-t-t-a-a R-a-a-m-m-e-n-n-n. Hell ya! I told my new BFF that I loved him and planned to marry him (I'm pretty easy to please like that). I'd been wanting to visit the S.R. for quite some time. So from there he proceeds to give us instructions... WTF? YES! Instructions... hmmm... instructions for going to a ramen-ya? Ummm-ok. We were told we needed to leave the house at 10:25 sharp, no ifs-ands-or-buts ; otherwise no ramen for us.

So at 10:25, we dutifully scoot out. As we weave manically caravan style through the Bay Area traffic; I'm advised that when we get there, I'm to toss the dogs off my lap, hop out of the car, and run into line? I'm silently thinking, "I hope he at least slows down to 25mph when I have to hop out. Yeah, at 25mph, I could do a tuck and roll and be ok." As we approach the target location, the car screechs to a halt and sure enough there's a frickin' line! I skooch out and join the waiting, hungry masses. As I wait in line, I see several other patrons zoom up to the S.R. and pull the same maneuver. I guess there was a method to the friend's madness afterall. The place doesn't open until 11:30, so we left one person in line and we went off to recon the neighborhood. Thank god, because the delicious wafts of ramen that were being emitted from S.R.'s kitchen were killing me. We find a nearby taqueria/bodega that's open and purchase a few sodas and a coffee and head back with our supplies.

As we wait in line, we sneak glimpses of the inner sanctuary through the plate glass window. S.R.'s menu is a large whiteboard on the wall. Most of the ramens run about $8-$9. This is a ramen-ya, so don't go with any expectations of bentos or sushi; although they do serve a few sides like karaage. They're known for their stewed pork ramen which can run out quite early. Several patrons left the line when the "Out of Stewed Pork," sign was taped on the window. At one point, a kind waitress came outside and took our order so that they could get started on it. We eventually made our way into the establishment and were promptly seated. The place is small, I think the max capacity sign stated 29 occupants. There's counter and table seating, but you don't get a choice where you want to sit...just be happy that you're inside.

At our table, we were offered small glasses of mugicha (a roasted barley tea) to tide us over. As we waited for our orders, I learn the Fight-Club like rules of Santa Ramen. Ramen Rule One: Once the food comes, you do not talk. You eat. Ramen Rule Two: Once the food comes, you do not talk. You eat. Ramen Rule three: Once you're done. You pay and get the heck out. Get the idea? Within 15 minutes, 3 bowls of steamin' ramen are set before us. I had ordered the pork broth ramen (comes with 2 slices of pork), with extra noodles and added menma (bamboo shoots), bean sprouts and a boiled egg. I shook a little shichimi togarashi on my bowl and was ready to commence with ramen slurping. After my first bite, I felt a wave of euphoria wash over me. After a few more bites, I got the ramen sweats. With the steam from the ramen giving me a ramen facial, I worked my way through about 3/4 of my bowl before I had to give up as there was no more give to the waistband of my jeans. However, there was no time to bask in the afterglow, we paid our bill and hurried outside past the throngs of customers awaiting the next wave of seating.

By the way, Santa Ramen does take plastic (although I don't know if they have a purchase minimum). And they do have a restroom for customers. You literally have to walk through the minuscule kitchen to get to it. I tripped over the three cooks in the process as there's no elbow room whatsoever back there and it's about 400 degrees in the kitchen. The kitchen guys were good-natured about it...maybe they're just used to sweaty women pressing themselves against them as they try to squeeze by?

Anyhow, I tend to be the type of person that's very dismissive about waiting in line for anything, but S.R. was so worth it! And when it moves to its new location on El Camino Real, I'll definitely be up and ready to leave at 10:25 to go stand in line for a bowl of screamin' goodness.
1539 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 431-1661

After catching a show at Slim's, we ducked into Wish for a nightcap. Wish is a bit small and narrow but radiates a come hither attitude with its sultry red walls and flickering tealights. The crowd on the night we visited was a bit diverse, there were couples whispering sweet nothings with their heads tilted together at the bar, girls shakin' their junk to the DJ that was spinning in the back and clusters of friends kicking it on the couch while knocking back a drink or two... or five. The bartenders were courteous, drinks priced reasonably (and were served in proper glassware, not plastic cups) and the bouncer was quite polite and chivalrous. I also loved that they had handbag hooks under the counter, so that you could have both hands free to get your drink on--- ingenious!

The laid back vibe and sexy atmosphere made me a bit mischievous, good thing my alcohol consumption was regulated as I needed to drive later that night. My only "wish" was that we weren't subjected to the rank wave of patchouli incense and BO when we first walked in. It eventually dissipated, but good god!
410 Market St, San Diego, CA 92101, (619) 235-4668

The ex and I visited Hooters during our last jaunt to San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. It was that time of the day between lunch and dinner where not much was open. He was fussing to watch some ESPN and I needed to eat something to tide me over until dinner (the pretzels on the Southwest flight, just didn't cut it). I'll admit I wasn't forced to go in (no arm twisting), but I was a bit curious to see what all the hype was about. I pictured something trashy with slithering pole dancers and Whitesnake blaring, but in reality it was just a tackily decorated beer-n-wings joint with extremely unflattering, polyester uniforms that looked like they would chafe (what's with the suntan colored pantyhose under the hideous, Bozo orange boy briefs?).

We had two waitresses during our visit. Our first waitress, Jackie, was super cool and chatty. Turns out that she was from Vacaville and we launched into a full scale conversation about the Vacaville outlets, much to the ex's chagrin. When I decided to purchase a tee for my teenage nephew, she rallied the other wait staff to each sign the shirt. I'm sure my sister-in-law in New Mexico appreciated the fact that we presented our 15 year old, hormone-infused nephew with a tee that was emblazoned with phrases such as "Randy, you make me randy!" and signed by a dozen busty Hooter girls; but screw her, our nephew loved it and dubbed me the coolest aunt ev-ah! Teenage boys are an odd breed.

Since we caught Jackie on the tail end of her shift, we were traded off to a second Hooterette for the latter part of the service. This 5'2, buck o'five weighing (all boob) nymph came bouncing over to introduce herself and chirps that she heard we were from Sac...well, guess what? She is too. We chat about Sac a bit and it turns out she and I went to the same high school. She throws me a sugary smile and cheerfully announces that she graduated in something like 2002 and maybe we know some of the same people? I choke on my beer, glare over the chicken strips and think darkly, "Yeah, maybe I went to school with your MOM!" The ex is smirking as he quietly turns his chair to watch the ball game.

Final tally: +1 star for the clean interior, average beer and the place not being as vulgar as I thought it'd be, +1 star for our cool waitress Jackie and no stars for the greasy chicken strips. I, however, deserve 5 stars for not reaching over and throttling that 21 yr old Hoot-chie for making me feel older than dirt.
1716 L St, Sacramento, CA 95811, (916) 443-7685

I like things simple---whether it's my meals (Japanese usually), my drinks (scotch neat or Jack on the rocks), my clothing (jeans & a tee if I can get away with it).

I had passed the sign for Old Soul the last time I was dragged to McCrapville...errr...Crepeville (sorry, reflex, I hate Crepeville). It was a small inconspicous sign jutting out into the back alley. I figured next time it was a nice weekend day and I had a morning to spare, I'd go exploring.

Since I had a coupla errands to run today in the area, I ducked in there. At first I was a bit surprised. It's pretty much a bare walls operation. Tim, the owner, a nice guy with a friendly smile, introduced himself and advised me that they were a wholesale roasting company but they did also serve the public. He also gave me a write-up, so I could read about the coffee that they were serving that day, while he poured my cup.

The "shop" is a large room with brick walls, a comfy looking couch and I think there was one small bistro set out front. To get in, you walk through a rolled-up garage door. Everything there is $2.00 and they implement the honor system (you make your own change from a large glass jar).

There's no stupid names for the coffee (you're not going to find a venti-caramel- whipped-half nonfat-mocha-chocoattiato with opium sprinkles here) and no long lines. Coffee's hot and served in a plain white paper cup, no frills... and it's pretty darn good! I liked it.

Along the counter, there were a few delectable baked goods (that I think they bake in-house). One immediately caught my eye--- the carrot pecan muffin. Mind you, I'm not a muffin girl. Most are dry, crumbly and illicit a "Pafleeh!" response from me as I spit it out and chuck the remainder in the trash. But Old Soul's carrot pecan muffin was awesome. It was buttery, not too sweet, moist and incredibly tasty... a melt, in your mouth muffin. God, it rocked! I hope it's something they have often because, in the words of our less-than-stellar governor--- I will be baaaaack!! I'm already jonesing for another one.

So, if your looking for some good coffee to sip or a bag of beans to brew, hit up Old Soul. I think their hours are limited. I tried to do an online search for more info, since I have never heard anyone mention the place before but all I could find was a small, recent article in the SNR. I lifted the address and phone number from that article, so I hope it's correct. (Just hook a left turn right before Crepeville, if on L Street. It's in that alley way between L & Capitol).

And be sure and try a carrot-pecan muffin! Old Soul is truly simplicity at it's finest.

2904 Franklin Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95817, (916) 457-5507

Squirreled away amongst some cute vintage homes in Curtis Park is the Coffee Garden. From the outside, it appears to be a quirky, little neighborhood cafe and its exterior does not deceive. The inside radiates a funky urbanesque vibe and serves up a nice cup of joe.

The front of the house sports comfy chairs and several snooze-worthy couches. There's a smattering of tables for its more studious clientele as well as free Wi-Fi. But meander back to the rear garden, it's what makes this locale special and sets it apart from its competitors. Much like Frances Hodgson Burnett's "Secret Garden," this little oasis offers one a serene setting to catch up on leisurely activities such as --- reading, knitting or just some plain old daydreaming. There are a few fountains interspersed throughout the patio to drown out the hubbub of the street, as well as a fair amount of greenery to insulate one from the chaotic flurry of the "real world." It's easy to see how a person could effortlessly while away the hours here without realizing it.

The shop is open from 7am -10pm daily, which is perfect for those of us who work banker's hours (or close to it) and wish to decompress during the twilight period or to laze about on a weekend. A sincere thanks goes out to my super, cool friends that divulged this little gem as I have a feeling that I'll be patronizing it frequently.
2121 Golden Centre Ln Ste #10, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670, (916) 858-0651

Ever have one of those days, where you're so deluged with assignments and surrounded by raving idiots that you don't know whether to start screaming, "Serenity Now!" (tm: Seinfeld) or crawl under your desk and curl up in a ball? That was my day today. After noting that I had so many cases on my desk that I appeared to be entombed in my cubicle, my wonderful co-worker took pity on me and suggested that we go out to dinner.

Once the prison yard bell rang... ummm, I mean, after finishing up in the office, we jetted over to a nearby strip mall where overshadowed by a mammoth Bel Air is a cute little trattoria in Gold River called Il Forno Classico. My coworker had visited this establishment before for their wine bar, but never for dining. It was still pretty early when we got there but we were greeted immediately at the front by a young man with a friendly smile and a strategically mussed hairdo, who ended up being our waiter (I think his name was Garrett?). He did a superb job of facilitating our meal. When asked which were better the crab cakes or the ahi for a starter, he recommended the crab cakes without missing a beat. The crab cakes were indeed quite tasty and I liked the pesto aioli topping. Also, he was quite conscientious about keeping our glasses full (we had vacillated between the Cakebread and Rombauer Chardonnays and finally opted to go with the Cakebread). During our meal, our server was the perfect balance of personable without being obtrusive. I appreciated that there was enough down time between courses that I didn't feel rushed, but not too much time where I was inclined to look around with a ravenous "Where the heck is our food?" expression.

Il Forno's menu showcases your standard California-Italian fare such as salads, pizzas, steak, pastas, chicken and wood fired pizzas. Entrees were reasonably priced from $11- $20 and appetizers from $8 -$14. I had a hard time deciding between the cioppino or the chicken scaloppini for my dinner. I finally went with the latter which came with a delectable marsala wine sauce intermingled with pieces of mushroom, garlic and bacon. This was served with creamy mashed potatoes and a side of green beans. The chicken would have been better had it been cut in medallions and the green beans were a tad salty, but overall it was a good meal. The coworker took a different approach and succumbed to the calling of some rich looking pasta---more specifically the artichoke and spinach ravioli accompanied by chicken, proscuitto and a lemon cream sauce. From the content sighs I heard radiating from the other end of the table; I will assume that the pasta was equally gratifying.

The restaurant boasts that it carries several hundred different kinds of wine and from the extensive wine list that I perused, I don't doubt it. They do also offer a wine tasting night on Thursdays from 6pm-9pm. This would be a great place to bring your favorite wine connoisseur. If I'm ever cursed with another rough day working for the Man, hopefully it'll be on a Thursday so I can have an excuse to hang out in the 'burbs and sample some wines at the IFC.
933 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574, (707) 963-3486

Taylor's takes to you back to a simpler time. When folks stood in line for their food instead of chugging past a window in the drive-thru while simultaneously yapping into their Bluetooth headsets. A time when families and friends sat at picnic tables and enjoyed a meal, some sunny weather and some good conversation. Taylor's Automatic Refresher does a great job of transporting you to that era and eliciting that sense of nostalgia that you had all but forgotten that you had.

It carries a pretty extensive menu for a burger joint- there's a bevy of hormone free California beef burger selections as well chicken and seafood (i.e. calamari, fish tacos) choices. For those seeking a less artery clogging option, there's 4 salads (house, cobb, Chinese chicken & chopped); as well as the housemade chili to partake in. In addition, the eatery rounds out its offerings with a rainbow assortment of milkshake flavors and a classic root beer float.

The fact that Taylor's is in wine country is quite evident by their drink menu. The wine list is pretty extensive--including such vinos as Frog's Leap, Rombauer & Caymus. Also, you can bring your own bottle of wine for a $5 corkage fee. For those who would prefer knocking back a few suds, they do carry several beers (Lagunitas, North Coast, Anderson Valley & Moylan's to rattle off a few).

During our visit, I opted for Taylor's ahi burger and the sweet potato fries. The ahi was seared rare then served with a ginger wasabi mayo and asian sweet slaw on a toasted egg bun. Let's just say that I inhaled my order in a non-ladylike manner in a matter of was that good! Although the garlic fries, which I got to sample, were quite delicious; my favorite was the sweet potato fries. Who doesn't love sweet potatoes? Especially when they're dusted with chili spice! I actually caught myself discreetly licking my finger tips to prolong that tangy, spicy sting from the chili dust on my tongue. Hopefully, my lunchmates didn't notice my declasse behavior.

The prices are a bit higher than your average burger hut, but you're in the vicinity of Napa after all (Main Street in Saint Helena). Entrees run from $4.99 to $13.99, with the average at about $8.50. Sides are sold separately and will run you an extra $2-$4. I would definitely suggest stopping by if you're out traipsing around the wineries. It's a nice place to refuel your body in between tastings at the vineyards...and it's hard to miss-- just look for the bright red picnic tables. If the line looks a bit long, call in your order. Then you can just pop by the pick up window and grab your tasty grinds.

4491 Freeport Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95822, (916) 452-6888

Trimspa has nothing on this place.

It was a cold, rainy Monday night when I thought I'd pop into Futami's, my go to place for simple Japanese food. But after making my way up the perilous maze of Hwy 99, I discovered Futami's was closed. It was one of those smack your head moments---dammit, it's a Monday! And like any real Japanese restaurant, it was closed on a Monday.

I nosed my Civic back towards the grid, opting to take Freeport instead... when lo and behold, what's that I see over yonder? A bright "Open," sign at the Sushi Cafe. It's Japanese looking, it's open... Sure, why not?

...Screeeeeeeeech! Bad move! Rewind! Rewind!

This is where I wish I could rewind the events that occurred, but life's not like a dvd...unfortunately. To its credit the Sushi Cafe made me lose a good 5 lbs. in one night. Not that I'm complaining about losing a few pounds of pudge, but reenacting Linda Blair in the Exorcist is not my idea of a healthy way of achieving this goal.

During my visit, I had opted for the saba shioyaki and the seared tuna for take out. Placing my order was easy enough, but the 25 minute wait for my order (no exaggeration) was beyond ridiculous. Sitting in the hard-ass entryway chair gave me plenty of time to notice how dirty the carpet was, how there was an inordinate amount of litter under the tables and that the service staff (mostly young student aged girls) was more interested in gossiping with their friends that stopped in then acknowledging any actual customers that stood impatiently in line.

The food was absolutely inedible. The saba shioyaki tasted like no other saba dish, I've ever encountered in my lifetime. But it was the tuna that made me cringe (& hurl). The tuna was over seared and coated in this odd, nasty salt-like mixture. Totally revolting. Both dishes were quickly disposed of in the trash, but it was too late... the noxious meal was already into play. I pulled a vomit comet for the better part of the night and couldn't look at food the entire next day.

Had I read a few Yelp reviews of this place prior to my visit, I would have stayed far, far away from this establishment. Unless you like praising the porcelain gods (repeatedly), I suggest you opt for another sushi venue.